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Rachel Cox Education. (2012) 'Into Dust and Fire Five Young Americans Who Went First To Fight the Nazi Army.'

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TOPIC FREQUENCY

Tunisia 8, America 8, Egypt 8, Vermont 8, North Africa 6, England 5, Cairo 5, United States 5, Jack Brewster 3, Thurmond 3, Texas 3, Us 3, Charles Mclean 3, New England 3, Alamein 2, Harrington 2, Christopher Wallace 2, Charles Mcclain 2, Charles Mclane 2, Windsor 2,
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  CSPAN    Book TV    Rachel Cox  Education.  (2012) 'Into Dust and Fire Five  
   Young Americans Who Went First To Fight the Nazi Army.'  

    November 23, 2012
    10:30 - 11:30am EST  

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funding from the federal government to build military from the time the united states is involved in the cold war against the soviet union. so, the states like mississippi and georgia and texas and florida and southern california and arizona and north carolina are informed in the post-world war two period by this historic shift in population and political influence and it is pogo from 1964 to 2008 could be thought of as the period of the sun belt dominance in american presidential history. you think about every president elected from 1964 to 2008 comes from a state of the sun belt. lyndon johnson, nixon from california, gerald ford was never elected so he doesn't count. jimmy carter, ronald reagan from california, the first george bush from texas, bill clinton
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from arkansas and the second bush from texas since 2008 is a watershed election. there were critical of the politics that the flood that came out of the sun belt. they tended to be oriented around issues of strong national defense of an opposition to the union and the defense of the free enterprise politics. and also it's in the sun belt in the south and the southwest that we see the rise by the 1970's to talk about is the religious right's involved in the political process in the new and important ways. so he was at the forefront of all of those issues and his own politics national defence, a staunch anti-communist that set an important goal in the right wing anticommunist politics in the 1960's one of the things that led the party is in 1964.
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even the early in his career he was a staunch advocate of the unions in south carolina back in the 30's and 40's but he switches in the 50's and 60's and becomes a die-hard supporters of business against labor. and then he also is an important role in a conservative evangelical politics. he joins the board of bob jones university of 1950 to win the votes in the country and solve carolina. bob jones just moved to the country come just moved to the university and he needed votes in the country in south carolina. he lost in the 1950 race for the senate as he did in the up country and that began a long
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process, a long relationship with thurmond with conservative fundamentalists and evangelical folks who were looking to get involved in the political process in this political process, so we need to understand thurmond's racial politics in the midst of these other conservative causes, these conservative issues that he was very involved with and to see how the intersect with one another and i think doing so gives us a history of what his america looks like and it helps us to rethink not only what was going on in the south but what was going on and the national conservative political realm as well rethinking strom thurmond helps us to rethink the modern conservatism. a history that i think too often thurmond is left out of because we remember him as a kind of cartoonish racist figure from the deep south. recounts a decision by five men
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in putting her on goal rob cox to join the british army in the spring of 1941. six months prior to perlo harbor in america's involvement in world war ii. this is about an hour. [applause] >> thank you. thank you for that kind introduction and for introducing me to bill lewis whose name as far as i can tell the epicenter of support in the entire united states. [applause] thank you tuzee stan booktv for making me feel like oprah winfrey if only for an hour. it's wonderful to be here. is this everything a bookstore should be. i am happy to be in vermont because i have longstanding
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family ties with the state. can you hear? talk louder? okay. i have longstanding ties with the state and my book got started here in vermont. when i was a little girl used to spend my vacations with my grandmother who lived in a wonderful white federal style house on main street in windsor vermont which is an hour and a half north from here. i could spend the summers what she called lulling around and imagining what it would be like to live there before i was born. my father had a big family. there were seven children. he had two sisters and four brothers. the most famous of them would be archibald cox. you probably remember was the watergate special prosecutor. but when i was growing up, my father's brother who really fascinated me was the one who was missing from the family.
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he had been killed in the war which at that time of course was world war ii. my grandmother kept mementos of his around the house. i knew a few things from them. she didn't talk about him much, she was reticent about anything private anyway. she kept a wonderful photograph in the bedroom that showed him in the round flat british soldier that framed his face like a halo almost. could anyone have been more heroic than my humble. we had a photograph of him in the hockey skates and prep school sweater. he had gone to the st. paul's school in concord and hampshire which was the first three of the archetype of the spartan episcopalian boarding schools in new england. i knew he had done very well. she kept his trophies in the dining room and one of them was
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known modestly as the best metal for a outstanding diligence and virtue which he had won in his senior year. from family stories i knew he had been killed in tunisia and he had gone ahead of america as a whole. i grew up and became a journalist and raised 11 testing questions about the war and its value. as i say i became a journalist and about six years ago i was casting around for a book idea and it occurred to be maybe i should just poke around little and see what i could learn about my uncle. was he as heroic as he looked to me as a child. so i did. i got in touch. the first person i got in touch with positive family friend
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charles mclean who was a retired professor and to my astonishment i discovered that he actually spent the day with my uncle on the day that he decided to go to format. was may 31st, 1931. they were both seniors in college. my uncle at harvard and charles mcclain at dartmouth. they met at st. paul for what was the rather important equivalent of what they call for a homecoming at other schools that involved the voters and faces races but what was foremost on most people's mind is what was happening in europe. of course hitler had written over almost all of it and the draft had been reinstated in the united states so most of the people that were about to graduate from college were
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concerned about what would happen next. would they be drafted? did they want to join the war? the college campuses were embroiled in controversy as much as the college campuses were when i was in school there was the isolationist that wanted americans to stay out and they believed that america should be in. all of this was on my uncle's mind coming and he had learned in college about an opportunity to join in the british army has an officer candidate in what they called the smart regimen in england called the rifle corps and the had actually started in the colonies in the american colonies in the 17 fifties in the french and indian war that wanted to bring columnists that knew something about the landscape and could help fight the indians and the french. when the american revolution came there were no more
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colonists but in 1941 when the british were desperate to get the united states involved in the world not a few great minds in england such as the minister anthony eden had done what they could to bring arrangements that could be the 18 americans to join the life of the core. my uncle and another fellow from harvard. that night when he was spending the evening with charles mclean. by the end of the evening when my uncle went back to cambridge he made up his mind for sure to go. he wasn't quite so sure what he would do but he headed back to guard that to talk over the idea with some of his close friends who were very committed interventionist leaders in the movement so to start i would like to read a little bit about
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what happened that night. elbe about what happened almost 70 years later when i met with mclean and his small room in hanover, a much older man. excited, she raced back to hanover on the house decides the village green. it is lived in rows of beds at the gauntlet and a chilly attic. no sooner had the comprehended the news had they rushed off to find their roommate, littlefield who shared an apartment on main street more discussion and debate among the friends would follow. another name for the kings rifle
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corps would be received and approved. he was rejected on account of a bum shoulder. but i was cast. cs cox and bolte offer themselves to become british soldiers and the officer candidates and the king's royal rifle corps. dudish about from england. other men would follow in 18 americans joined the 60th rifles and some 17 months later the army itself finally would enter the fray. these five young men went first and in the war the timing tralee is everything. before going to sleep that night, and this is when i talked with him years later, charles mclean house was his habit wrote in his diary.
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65 years, as i said, 65 years later where he lived alone in their retirement village she showed me the intrigue of it is deemed to have surprised him. fear wasn't a viable fought or motion during those days he mused. cox he had written had started new thinking. he wants me to go with him. the idea was very attractive. no waiting, exciting but i am dubious of the chance of coming back. well i knew a good quote when i heard one even though it sort of gave me the shivers that he so had foreseen the situation. so i asked charles mcclain to put me in touch with the defendants and the other four men and he did come and they produced amazing piles of
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journals, letters, reminiscences , i was able to interview her and it became clearer and clearer that this was a story that really needed to be told and i felt at that time it wouldn't be difficult to tell. turned out to be a little harder than i expected. but actually one of the hardest things about it because they turned out to be so articulate and well read and thoughtful one of the hardest part is deciding when to tell the story myself and my own voice and not too cold i should just get back to the story but to get back to the story in july of 1941. the two from harvard, my uncle and he word net of and did things that in those days they
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met up for a drink with an emissary from the british and misery to finalize paperwork which mostly amounted to just making sure they all had a birth certificate and when dealing with passports there were certain legal restrictions going overseas to fight for the for an army so they sort of scooted around that and they got on the train to halifax and waited there for a few days and got on a freighter and joined a conflict but 60 boats loaded from everything from sugar and of course the military experts. this is the way you try to get across the north atlantic without being torpedoed by a submarine or sunken by a air plan. they did get across and they arrived at 1941 and they were met by an adversary in the core and they went down to winchester england which is about 40 miles
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i think south of london and joined the british comrades. they were a little bit disappointed to discover they were not going to get off of the boat and on the battlefield. i think the kind of had the idea that you go to the war the way you go to a war movie. you join and then you are on the battlefield fighting for what is right and good and they discovered they had about a year of training in which they did things that enlisted men do. they suffered, they got to know their comrades and the riflemen as they call them most of whom were from east london and that took them along -- a little longer to warm up to start with weech we would call prep school who would get the officers like
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the american guys or bad at the end they can to like them. jet fell in love with an irish woman who was a member of the royal naval service and since we are in a bookstore i have to tell this i don't want to lose track of the larger narrative but to keep in touch with each other each of them would read a book and they would write little notes in the margin and then when they finished the book they would send it to the other that way it's like reading the book together. i thought i was a wonderful idea. they also did some things your average soldier couldn't do because they were americans they became sort of propaganda stars and they were constantly being photographed which irritated them that pleased the ministry of war information because they were the leading edge of
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american help which the british were desperate for a that point to the need great friends with the american ambassador to england and then one of the great underappreciated figures i think in history but the time in england was fine despite all the training and when they finally graduated from basic training and went off to officer training in november of 1941 and april of 42 they had been commissioned as officers, and he won this symbolic silver baton as being the best shot kuhl all around the best training in his class so they were already proud of that there by by 1840 to the situation had changed a little bit because in december of 41, the japanese bombed pearl harbor in the germany declared war in the united states, something that a lot of historians and his
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greatest mistakes and the british situation people recognized it as a tragedy for the united states with the british with world they were not being forced to stand alone against the german war machine. they shipped out from the battlefield. at that point, the nazis controlled the mediterranean's, so to get to north africa which is where the british and the axis at that point fighting with each other we've to go all the way around the bottom of africa which was 13,000 miles. it's crazy to think of it but that's the only way we could do it they had to make is amazingly long journey.
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they stopped in k-town and michael learned a brief in k-town and then they reached the suez canal on the timber third, 1942. now i should probably get a little background on the war in north africa. historians when they talk about it the metaphors like a seesaw. a sort of war in the fall of 1940 the and journeys of grandeur to write in the streets of cairo to make a plea for cairo.
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they drove the i talions pretty far west into libya to bailout mazzoleni although they were not happy about that the famous tank commander along with a bunch of panthers and effectively drove the british back into egypt. now when the summer rolls around things quiet down and it's terribly hot and they would seize the two sides to begin, and then in the fall of 1941 there was again advanced by the british into libya in hopes of driving back the forces he turned around and pushed the british back again and all the way this time sort of disastrously all the way deep into egypt, deeper than they had
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ever been before. so, when the american soldiers arrived, the allies i should say and the axis forces were dug in and testing each other in a place which was about 60 miles west of alexandria close enough to alexandria which was the british naval center in egypt close enough to cairo to be really extremely dangerous and i think frightening to all the allies on the suez canal or the middle eastern oil fields and just as they are now, there were critical to the british war effort so it was a tense moment and important and on september september 3rd they steamed up the red sea, unloaded and went off to the training camps to prepare for the battle will and one other little bit of
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background in doing the research i was lucky enough to go to egypt kunkel to tunisia and egypt and all the line and looks like every other part of the egyptian desert which is to say sand, flat, rocks, you can't imagine why this point would be the place the two armies can to a halt but the reason i couldn't be outflanked, it was blocked on the north by the mediterranean sea to on a self this kind of a sandy area which is impossible for heavy vehicles such as tanks for instance. one of rommel's track's when he was around the opposing army was to jump on them from behind but that couldn't happen here. they were pouring material into the spot on the egyptian desert when he decided to fight, and
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then when they got to egypt for the first time the were separated into two groups. jack brister joined the first battalion and went down to the southern end of the line with the armored division which was the story of the desert, the very famous part of the british army. they were sent off with the second battalion and went up to the north end of the line so between them, between the two groups they pretty much saw most of the battle when it finally came october 23rd. i'm going to take a little digression since we are in vermont and we are hearing that hurricanes to read to read you something i wrote about my uncle's trip from his training from the front line it's really
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what i try to do as i thought about this is kind of trying to get inside of his mind as he drives across the egyptian desert in october of 1942. when the great day came to join the second battalion, he and harrington every british officer has a kind of servant they call for reasons i don't know he and harrington loaded their possessions and settled very early on the road towards cairo it was the first trip that he had driven in along while. the morning air was cool and the sky slowly brightened to a crisp and sharp blue like a full morning in new england. he felt migratory and herring
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ten crammed in with food and blankets it seemed briefly like the winds were tricked and the family made twice yearly between new jersey and vermont. as cox headed west the delta opened up before them and starting starting green, white and fertile and was absolutely flat and the way it is saddling. he was yet to experience the blue which is the veterans called the desert but he'd spend considerable time contemplating the wastes are of the infantry base depot to the continuum amazement being a man the police thought trees and lakes and mountains important, he led them. possibly it was their geometric of their nests. perhaps in maryland the conditions were dry and hot and he wouldn't have let them so well in the sand stretching far
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away he remembered the traveler from the antique land which could have been egypt. there as they neared cairo with the three great pyramids punctuating the perfect line of the horizon like an ancient geometry lesson. still for all of its flatness the green delta would have been if he could be allowed for a moment to consider the unthinkable beautiful sight to the africa corps should they ever see it. this is a good war in that respect he wrote home a few days later. he has the lush green land and we have our goal every west which is the direction of home and the traditional american direction. he had been looking forward to spend christmas and benghazi and fought a ski in the swiss alps or better still, the italian. all army vehicles in the desert had their windshields removed to
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prevent reflected light from capturing the enemies attention. this made driving challenging and when the wind picked up and the sand, too which had proven nearly inevitable, it was painfully slow. the violence of the sand and wind took him back to the fall of 1938 when he and his mother quite unwilling we have migrated home from vermont through the great hurricane that would be remembered as the long island express the job of his younger brother for his first year at st. paul and i had been raining for days and returned to windsor. they were aware they were rising and the flooding was occurring in western vermont but that hadn't seen particularly ominous. it was a regular part of the change of seasons and happened like clockwork when it broke up each spring. the family had been anxious about their safety but no one said the word hurricane and they
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were eager to get home. the next morning before they left their own goal gave them promise to stop out the water got too high and what ever happened that night at nine. they pulled all of the driveway on to the route five in the pouring rain but the lunch time when they reached the town in connecticut and north west hartford the rain had stopped. his mother bought him a nice rear stake for lunch. honestly he the been driving me around for about three days. he deserved a good lunch, she said. you can have anything you want. for libel after they finished they stood on the porch with the restaurant owner looking around at the stillness. not a drop of rain or air disturbed it. they started out at about the same time they did. absolutely terrific as his mother would say. the rain lashing the car from huge buckets.
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the wild weather made them feel exhilarated. they were having a wonderful time. as they made it through south connecticut they asked perhaps with their they should stop. the new people but nearly every town along the road. he didn't want to come and lamont didn't want to either. they drove on. ..
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when they reached home they still haven't grasped the full extent of the storm damage. plainfield had been windy -- that's where they went in vermont, sorry when they lived in new jersey but less so in other places. when the telephone rang with news that his sister molly visiting relatives near boston was fine, vermont could not understand why they were calling. later that night when uncle louie finally got through, they gain some sense of the damage. he had had to leave his house and fight his way to the telephone office to get a line. all along main st. big old elms had fallen. the pine forest and paradise was wrecked and that was an area kind of unspoiled trees behind the house in windsor. it's now a beautiful park but it no longer has these immense pines that were there in the 30s. the pine forest and paradise was wrecked. the woods lamotte would say later look as if the giants have
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been playing jack straus. everywhere lewis said. ice was never the same. it would be nearly two years more before all hell broke loose around the globe. so, this is a digression. now we have to go back to egypt in 1942, but what was interesting anyway was what was about to happen to rob at this point as all hell was about to break loose for him. he would be moved to the front lines. he learned how to operate a wonderful, he thought it was a wonderful enormous gun called a six founder and he and the other men lined up along the alamein line, i think there is something was something like hundreds of thousands -- tens of thousands of men anyway and he found as he got out into the desert that he actually loved the desert. he was a fan of wide open spaces i guess you could say and he liked liked the independent life that the soldiers were able to
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lead there. each man alone in the desert. anyway as time went by it became increasingly clear that the day of battle was approaching and they kept repeating the same exercise, marching through simulated minefields, three of them at the time during the same amount of period. they were being trained for the assault which began on the night of october 23, just about 70 years ago, four days ago. and i would like to now read another short bit, which describes what it was like for jack brewster at the southern end of the line as the night of battle arrived and they were ordered into action. as dusk fell across the vast stony plain of the western desert 10,000 plus men of the
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7th armored division mounted their vehicles and began jockeying for their places in the column. the thunderous tank engines throbbed in their ears. for lines comprising gun carriers, troop carriers, chief tanks anti-tank guns and trucks group gradually across the pale sand. the advance began. the army pack slowly into narrow lanes cleared earlier through the allied minefields by the 44th recognizance regiment aided by tanks newly equipped for mine clearing. white cotton tape delay needed a pathway edges and lighting the lanes of regular intervals were improvised street lamps made from petrol the same for each path growing dimly where it's been cut out of the middle on the eastern side. the western side kept dark to prevent enemy detection. nearly four and a half hours later, at 9:40 the sky behind the advancing men caught fire. the crack and boom of the opening barrage piled noise upon
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noise of upon the length of the horizon so the force of sound rushing seemed to propel them. in the desert now, the man could shout, laugh, scream or cry and no one would hear them. the power of it was overwhelming, thrilling. a man might feel puny and get immense both at once. the foreman rose, the hard ground pools and the steady advance of the 1st battalion turned into dust. each driver could only follow mechanically the black silhouette of the vehicles three yards in front of it. as the columns progressed activity head of had of the men increased. machine gun bullets traced streaks of light against the night in all directions. armor-piercing shots hit into earthlike lightning and ricocheted upward and brilliant -- near the heads of their columns brewster and turkey and the men reached the end of the allied minefields and passed into no-man's land. here soldiers of the reconnaissance regiment were going about their business like
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phantoms escorting prisoners, salvaging weapons and ammunition from a knocked out vehicle, helping back to want it. some of them went to themselves. others just lay where they had fallen, bodies fractured and amidst the cacophony strangely and utterly still. while the battle went on for 12 more days, which of course chaos and hell, it did not go according to plan although general montgomery, the leader of the british eighth army, argued for the rest of his life that it had. i go into a lot of detail about it in the book. i will spare you now but it's suffice it to say that the allies prevailed and unfortunately for the five americans there did not get through unscathed. hayward cutting and build turkey
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spent months and months in the hospital learning to walk again. chuck alt-a took a shell fragment in the spine and had to spend a month in the hospital wondering if he would be able to keep his leg in the end an act had to be amputated to save his life. my uncle was shot in the back and fortunately a little bit to one side of his spine so he spent a couple of months in the hospital but when he was better, he went back into action and joined jack rooster who at this time was nearly 2000 miles further along the edge of north africa, and on february 2, 1943 they went into tunisia. now by this time the american army finally had troops in an operation called the tours. general patton and a couple of other generals and a large number of american soldiers
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landed in algeria morocco and along with the british contingency, flawed often with heavy losses eased into tunisia where they took a little while but eventually met up with the british eighth army and the idea was they could then expel the axis forces from north africa which was from tunisia which would become the launching ground for the invasion of italy which was scheduled for that summer and fall of 1943. so by february 1943 when jack brewster and my uncle arrived in tunisia, it was pretty clear that this was a good idea and that although the american army had suffered a lot learning how to fight, it was pretty clear that they would prevail in north africa but it would be a couple of months of really difficult fighting before that came to pass. tunisia is not flat as a pancake and egypt is quite mountainous
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and the germans, because they were there first, had occupy it all the good observation points on the mountain tops and made it very difficult for the eighth army and the american armies to advance through the passageways between the mountains. it was difficult bloody fighting and unfortunately both my uncle and jack brewster lost their lives in the process. if i may, germany had -- by major many declare defeat in north africa to get ready for the next round so to speak. so, in conclusion then, i would like to talk about the motivation of my uncle in going and this is one of the subjects that fascinated me as i began to learn about it. he and the four other americans did not have to go where they went, but they believed it was the right thing to do and there were other reasons too, which i will read to you. i hope you'll read the book and
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draw your own conclusions. they each have their own reasons but i will read you what my uncle had to say on the subject. after he was killed, my grandmother received his personal possessions back again all the way from north africa and among them was a letter he had written to her when he was in cape town, waiting to go to egypt to go into action, a letter to be opened in the event of what my dad -- so i will read you what he said. i will read you part of that. dearest it began, i have thought him frequently of writing this letter. it each time i shied from it. for us because it is like all the sentimental heroics which prevent clear thought and second, that i'm quite sure i shed the guilds which makes the writing of bit of an emotional self-indulgence, undignified. lately i am strong for dignity, not pompousness but dignity and the sense worthy of a man,
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whatever great or little word man halves. have. on the other hand, -- i do not need to tell you why i came. i doubt if i could tell you fully. billy, that is what they called his uncle archibald for unexplained reasons -- billy said when i talk to him about it that as far as he could see there were four reasons for going. nothing better to do, adventure, curiosity and belief. i came for all four. but mostly for shame. i was ashamed of america. i love america and i could not sit mediocre while america was being attacked. for americans not to claim between two oceans america is a phase and because it is a phase let's be dynamic or parish. do you know what is written on the statue of liberty? i did once but i had forgotten.
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i will write what i would put there. send me your despised for here is they shall be a noble. one day the dream will be fact. a child who loves a ball throws it in the air. a miser reveling in his gold, crunches a handful and holding it aloft with the stream claiming down in the sunlight. even those, i love life, and i know that my life is worth nothing if not worth risking. evil has come amongst us staying put yourself in the balance with me. are you not glad to do it? i am. you are glad too, for i am happy. bless the friends i love so well but above all you. life is good. there is went on the heath. all my love, rob. that is the end.
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thank you very much. [applause] i would love to answer any questions you might have. comments are welcome also. yeah? >> the written language has suffered so much. and the letters and the journals of that time were just so incredibly graphic, because there was no other accoutrements to help what was going on in their lives and they could put their hearts into their words. we were so fortunate to be able to come along the goldmine that
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you did. >> yeah, i was fortunate. yeah, thank you. i know what i wanted to tell you. after the war ended, my grandmother had three of her five sons who fought in world war ii and at the end she had stacks of letters. they all wrote to her i would say at least once a week. it's remarkable and now it seems almost unbelievable that she took authored letters and took them to a typist and she had them typed up and then she bounded them in red letters so she have this sort of wonderful, official momentous report. i have to say i learn by doing this research that she did redact. she did a little bit of editing of the letters. [laughter] so i actually did find my uncle's original letters and anything having to do with the woman that he was in love with when he went overseas, how that
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relationship ended, this little encounter he had in cape town were completely removed from the official record. [laughter] and of course you have to think about how they adjusted but they wrote to take into account the feelings of the folks at home. you know they seemed remarkably, all of them seemed remarkably cheerful as i read their letters and i'm sure it was partly who they were. they put their best face on things by nature. that was the way they were brought up and that was the way they handled things but i have to say a lot about how they try to put a bright face on the situation because they didn't want to worry there. so in their brothers sisters. the letter circulated of course. they would go to the mother and then the sister and aunt and the uncle and everybody would get a chance to catch up on what's happening but you do wonder what will happen. historians i think are maybe a little worried about what will
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happen in so little gets put down on paper. save your e-mails. can you imagine saving all of your e-mails? >> where the letters censored and the other is, i take it from what you are saying that they didn't say much about how they dealt with the prospect of being under fire successive days. >> i will take them one at a time. yes, all the mail was censored and in fact one of their jobs as officers was to send the letters of their listed men of the company and the gods so they knew it and they wrote around it kind of. my uncle dreamed up sort of a code that he shared with his mother to let her know when he went to the front. it was that he would tell her he was going to see the "wizard of oz." so when she got the note and she
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would see the wizard, she knew and she probably got kind of nervous. she knew that was where he was headed. like when they landed in manchester, he said to his mother i arrived in the city where charles mclane lives. charles mclane went to manchester, new hampshire so he wasn't allowed to say really where he was specifically but they found ways to get around that. and the second was, how did they talk about sustained combat? >> trying to make things look nice for their family. did they talk at all about emotionally how they dealt with being under fire, knowing they would be under fire the next day and doing it the next day in the day after that in the day after that? >> i can tell you that the letters became more sparse when they were in combat. they spent a lot of time waiting around for combat during the battle of alamein.
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what i know about that i learned from the letters that they wrote later. the four of the five sent a lot of letters. they don't talk too much about how they dealt with fear. more, they talked about how hard it was to start losing men. that was the thing that really impressed them and it was difficult. that was something i think they could share. my uncle talked once about looking forward to going another moment that they were going to be encountering the enemy and how we thought about it. he used this really mundane sort of metaphor. he said it's like, he referred to as swimming hole in vermont where he liked to swim in the summer. he said it's like being, i think it was 20 feet, at 20 feet and wanting to jump and also not wanting to jump. i have checked brewster's journal that he kept all the way through his time in north africa but it came very telegraphic
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when he actually got into combat and sort of slept a night in a cave. nothing but a -- just little things like that. not a lot of introspection than. is that helpful? >> yeah. >> oh, i'm sorry. go ahead. >> clearly he was driven by, or the group was driven by faith as you suggested and patriotism. also by the bravado of being a young man. i wonder if you came across anything the -- of doing that kind of thing because they all belong to a certain social strata. that is a little bit trite. i actually thought of that but it wasn't quite what i was reflecting on.
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in other words the imperative that might come from being part of a group, a social group in the country particularly the interventionist who are part of the class structure. did you come across any of that kind of thing? >> well i don't think they would have -- they wouldn't have articulated it quite like that but i think they were conscious of the leaders. they were leaders in their schools and i think they were conscious of coming from sort of families that had contributed to the country and taken the lead. exactly, they felt it was their duty to take the lead if there was a cause that they felt they needed. yes, i think they felt they needed to do something. i think it played out in two ways. i think my uncle felt he wanted to do something extraordinary. i mean, he couldn't imagine himself not doing something important. i'm not exactly sure what it was, but i think also there was
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they felt they were privileged in many ways. they have this wonderful education and with privilege came an obligation as a citizen to do what you believed was right, not just for yourself before your country as a whole. is that we what you were getting at? >> that was my assumption. that certainly is a big change over 75 years. there is a cultural shift. >> i would agree with that. >> obviously the social structures are -- >> more people who are in privileged positions don't like to think that they are which makes it hard to think of yourself as being obligated or being a leader or owing anything. >> it seems like it was that was part of the culture and andover and places with deep roots in colonial history and families who had children there had huge expectations.
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much like today families have expectations. >> i do talk and the author's notes in the beginning about how he grew up with the stories about the ancestors who have done remarkable things like roger sherman who signed the constitution and captain cox and the civil war and leading that effort to defend andrew johnson when he was impeached. you have this feeling you had to do something special. i guess this is as close as i've ever gotten. [laughter] but that is part of it. yeah, and i mean the downside is the sense of superiority which is not something i don't think to be proud of. >> may i ask an aside? your family's response to your uncle's notoriety and status in the country? >> you mean after watergate?
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>> did they just wish it would all go away? >> oh no. it fulfilled everybody's expectations about richard nixon and finally it had come to that, you know? my grandmother, she was worried. she felt like something, great wrong had been done to her son but what she was most upset about what she would say well, at least i'm not richard nixon's mother. [laughter] >> he rachel, the combat team -- are riveting but were you knowledgeable about the tactical way all of these battles in africa played out? were you familiar with world war
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ii overview history, because, how do you educate yourself? >> that is a good question. it was really hard actually. a lot of reading and a lot of rereading and rereading again just to become familiar with it and i also had a wonderful advisor, a man named christopher wallace. general sir christopher wallace who is the chairman of the board of the king's royal rifle corps museum in new england who was unbelievably generous and sort of talked me through some of these accounts of battles. the british of course, not to make any generalizations, our grade about courting everything in their history so the details of the battles were there, but they were by the company commander, the colonel who wanted to make it seem like they
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were a bunch of hardy guys who went out and had a good day in the battlefield which clearly was not what it was like. i had to sort of put that through the filter of other histories and try to bring them all together, and i did also find several excellent memoirs that describe -- i mean there was one man in the same, whose company was right next to my uncles in the battle of à la main who describes exactly what he saw, felt than heard and i made the assumption that was pretty much what my uncle saw felt and heard. so to get a first-person account helped a lot. but it did take a little time. anyone else? >> he what was it like for you emotionally?
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>> do you mean uncle robbie? >> that is what i mean. >> okay, sorry. it was moving and it was wonderful to feel the family circle feels complete to me now. i took your question, i'm sorry. so that was very satisfying. i felt like i learned a lot about my grandmother. my father and then when i was in tunisia i finally went and visited his grave which no one in my family had ever done before, which was really pretty amazing experience. it just filled in this place and i felt good that he had a visitor from the family. it sounds kind of crazy.
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and in the british war cemetery, i guess they provided fan of -- invited family members to choose something to be written on the gravestone and you can hardly bear to walk around the cemeteries because some of them are so heartfelt. what my grandmother chose was a passage from st. john in the book of the new testament for my brothers and companion's sake, i will strive to do good. so i also cried a lot. but, it crystallized really the mystery of kind of how number one he was able to do this thing and also how might rand mother was able to handle it. it's terrible to think about it. and she kind of saw it as something that was part of his character and he needed to do something that he did for the greater good and i guess that is how she managed to live with it.
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>> what was your pace like when you are writing the book? like, were there places where you were reading and rushing along and were there other places where, it might've been a slower pace board where you know you -- [inaudible] >> well, there is more or less procrastination i would say. [laughter] with writing of course, in my experience, you start slow and you find a place. you have to cast around and experiment and it's like you find a track that is going to take you where you want to go. and then you move faster and faster. that was the thrilling part. although sometimes you get to the end and then you go back and discover you have to do it all over again. that happened many times and i threw away a lot.
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it also picks up a lot once you have a book contract, when there is somebody waiting for what you have written and you have to pick up the pace and you have to kind of force that which is good. you get that her at sitting in the chair and better at not calling your friends because you can't think of a word and that kind of thing. does that answer your question? >> were any of the soldier still alive when he wrote the book? >> well, this is the saddest part about writing this book for me. hayward cutting was still alive and i actually, one of the ways i got started was he was a friend of one of my aunts and told me how to get in touch with him. i e-mailed him and he e-mailed me back. that was how it went for the next two years. i guess i started with a letter, i would love to talk to you and he would write back and